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The Printer's Kiss

The Life and Letters of a Civil War Newspaperman and His Family

Patricia A. Donohoe

Publication Year: 2014

In language that resonates with power and beauty, this compilation of personal letters written from 1844 to 1864 tells the compelling story of controversial newspaper editor Will Tomlinson, his opinionated wife (Eliza Wylie Tomlinson), and their two children (Byers and Belle) in the treacherous borderlands around that “abolitionist hellhole,” Ripley, Ohio. The Printer’s Kiss includes many of Tomlinson’s columns that appeared in the Ripley Bee, the local Ripley newspaper, and excerpts from a short story in the Columbian Magazine. It features many of his letters to his family and a remarkable number of letters from Eliza and the children to Tomlinson while he was away during the Civil War, serving variously as quartermaster sergeant for the Fifth Ohio, as captain of a company of counterinsurgents in West Virginia, as an independent scout and spy in Kentucky, as a nurse on a hospital boat, and as a compositor for the Cincinnati Gazette.

During his career, Tomlinson published ten newspapers in Ohio and one in Iowa, where he lived from 1854 to 1860. Described by his contemporaries as brilliant and erratic, coarse and literary, Tomlinson left a trail of ink covering topics ranging from antislavery sentiment to spiritualist fervor and partisan politics. His personal writings reveal the man behind the press, disappointed by his weakness for alcohol and by Eliza’s refusal to condone his plan to raise a Negro company. His eloquent descriptions ache with the discomfort of standing fourteen hours at a compositor’s table, shooting cattle to feed soldiers, and having to defend himself against accusations of adultery. Tomlinson was fatally shot by a Kentucky Copperhead in 1863.

Eliza’s letters pulse with the fears of a Union family on the lookout for slave hunters, Morgan’s Raiders, and bad news from the battlefield. Like her husband, she freely condemns inept politicians and southern rebels. She also questions her husband’s military competence, but she usually writes about domestic matters—the children, friends, and finances.

The intimate details in these letters will engage readers with suspenseful accounts of survival in the borderlands during the Civil War, camp life, and guerrilla warfare and commentary on political and military events, journalism in the mid-1800s, and the roles of women and children. Most importantly, readers will be exposed to the story of how one articulate and loyal Union family refused to give up hope when faced with tragic disruption.

Published by: The Kent State University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

It all began with my sister’s curiosity. My sister and I were in Portsmouth, Ohio, for our father’s funeral in 1970 and staying at our grandparent’s house. My sister, Betsy, asked our Aunt Betsy why an old green and white cracker tin was wedged between some books on a hallway shelf...

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pp. xiii-xvi

Little in life is done solo, least of all a book based on the work of others. So many people have contributed to The Printer’s Kiss that it would take another book to list them with their contributions and thank them in the manner they deserve. For all of the resources, expertise, and encouragement...

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pp. xvii-xxii

In the turbulent decades from 1843 to 1863, in the treacherous borderlands of southern Ohio, my great-great-grandfather, Will Tomlinson, published newspapers of a controversial nature. His newspapers covered everything from antislavery sentiment to spiritualist fervor to the...

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Editing Notes

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pp. xxiii-xxvi

The publication of original letters always presents the challenge of whether to stay true to a letter writer’s variations in form, spelling, punctuation, syntax, and paragraphing, or to do some careful editing with reader accessibility in mind. For the most part, I have attempted to follow...

Cast of Historical Characters

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pp. xxvii-xxviii

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1. Tomlinson’s Origins

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pp. 1-4

Information about the background of Will Tomlinson is sketchy and inconclusive prior to his turning up in Ripley, Ohio, sometime in the early 1840s. According to the genealogy that comprises “The Family History,” he was born on August 2, 1823, in northern England. There is some...

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2. Eliza’s Heritage

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pp. 5-11

The Scotch-Irish origins of Eliza Wylie Tomlinson would, for the most part, have drawn upon the same ethnic stock as her husband’s ancestors in northern England. Like her husband, Eliza placed high a value on independence and identified with those who rebelled against tyranny...

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3. Bringing Forth

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pp. 12-20

Cousin Eliza,
By the politeness of Mr. Tweed, I drop to you a few lines, I had almost said as an excuse for not calling with you in person, but perhaps that would savor too much of the provocative. Be assured, that it is not for want of good will, that I do not now, yea, and have not long since called...

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4. Looking for Relief

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pp. 21-33

After his return from Mexico, Tomlinson took his family back to Georgetown. Their oldest child, five-year-old George, and his baby sister, Margaret, went with them. For some reason, they left two-year-old Byers in Ripley, perhaps because he was ill and not up to traveling. The...

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5. Together and Apart

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pp. 34-53

Early in 1860 the Tomlinsons apparently made a hasty retreat to Ohio, leaving pets, property holdings, and household goods in Des Moines. They trusted a few friends to take care of everything they left behind—including unresolved business and property issues. The fluctuating conditions...

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6. Collision Courses

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pp. 54-69

The first light of 1861 cast long, dark shadows on a country on the brink of civil war. As President-elect Lincoln, at home in Springfield, Illinois, navigated the choppy waters of assembling an administrative cabinet, preparations for war were already underway. Although war would not be...

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7. Volunteer Frenzy

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pp. 70-80

The Tomlinsons never made it to Athens. The war changed everything— their plans, their lives, their world. On Friday, April 12, 1861, when Confederate forces fired upon Fort Sumter, the news reached Cincinnati within hours of the attack. On Monday, April 15, when President Lincoln...

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8. Rushed Waiting

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pp. 81-93

As Tomlinson dealt with the noxious duties of a quartermaster sergeant, Eliza worried about their son’s visits to his father at Camp Dennison, where disease lurked and unregulated elections for officers resulted in unruly behavior among thousands of enlisted men. They acted more...

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9. Into the Hills

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pp. 94-102

As August swathed the Ohio Valley and western Virginia in stifling heat, Eliza’s anxieties began to boil over. They had been simmering for some time. Kentucky’s allegiance to the Union was unstable, and there were rumors of imminent Confederate invasions into southern Ohio. There was...

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10. Curse This Idleness

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pp. 103-115

Summer dragged on, and Tomlinson became disgruntled with camp life and its tedium, broken only by the mutinous conduct of a drunken soldier, the disappearance of two prized possessions, and his wife’s letters from home. It seemed that Eliza was witnessing more action in Ripley...

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11. Mustering Men and Courage

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pp. 116-129

As Confederate troops fanned out in Kentucky and boatloads of Union soldiers floated down the Ohio, one rumor after another made the rounds in Ripley. Eliza did not know what to believe, but she had no doubts that she would be powerless to use the one weapon at her disposal...

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12. Mountain Desperadoes

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pp. 130-142

As cold weather set in, Tomlinson wrote to his superiors and stressed the urgency of getting winter provisions for his men. Their location in the heart of guerrilla territory also made his request for new rifles and pistols critical, especially since he had undisclosed plans for a raid on Rebel...

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13. Disarmed

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pp. 143-153

The winter of 1862 was a difficult time for the Tomlinsons—and the country. About the time that Tomlinson was dismissed from the military, he came down with a “disease of the lungs,” which was probably some form of bronchitis or pneumonia. His illness was given by the family as...

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14. Hatching New Hope

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pp. 154-172

In the winter following Tomlinson’s severance from the military, the Fifth Ohio was at Romney in western Virginia, Paw Paw in western Maryland, and the Battle of Kernstown, near Winchester, Virginia. The Union’s victory there in March came at a cost of nearly six hundred casualties...

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15. Attacks from Within and Without

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pp. 173-185

In 1861 the military took control of the telegraph to prevent the publication of strategic information that could undermine the war effort. By July 1862 the telegraph had been shut down so many times that Tomlinson mentioned it only in passing in the following letter. But no telegraph...

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16. This Sea of Passion

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pp. 186-199

Ohioans living across the river from Kentucky saw some of their worst fears realized at the beginning of September 1862 when John Hunt Morgan and his hard-riding raiders joined forces with Gen. Kirby Smith’s army of twelve thousand in Lexington. Their strategic objective: invade...

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17. Nursing the Wounded

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pp. 200-215

At Stone’s River, Tennessee, on the night of December 30, 1862, closely encamped enemy troops alternately serenaded each other with popular songs like “Yankee Doodle” and “Dixie” before singing “Home Sweet Home” in unison. Soldiers from the North and the South wanted to be...

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18. Close to Home

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pp. 216-229

By the summer of 1863, people in both the North and the South were weary of war. Northerners were disheartened by the ineffectiveness of Union commanders and the audacity of Confederate officers in leading raids into Pennsylvania. But a few bright spots emerged. The South...

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19. Partisan Fever

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pp. 230-239

As autumn approached, the Union defeat at the Battle of Chickamauga muted rounds of applause in the North for earlier victories at Vicksburg and Gettysburg. Meanwhile, statewide elections in Ohio and other states were gearing up, and Tomlinson was publishing the Loyal Scout in Ripley...

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20. Freedom’s Casket

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pp. 240-252

The elections for Ohio’s governor and state legislators were over, and once again Tomlinson had no newspaper to publish or the means to start one. He must have been at loose ends, wondering if he would ever have another opportunity to influence the political landscape, especially...

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pp. 253-258

In a letter to Eliza in July of 1862, Will Tomlinson wrote that he would like his letters on the war as published to be preserved. Given the context of that comment, he was presumably referring to his letters to the editor published in the Ripley Bee. But if actions are any indications of intent, he...


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pp. 259-260


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pp. 261-282

Selected References

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pp. 283-292


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pp. 293-300

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781612778402
E-ISBN-10: 1612778402
Print-ISBN-13: 9781606352168

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2014

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Tomlinson, Will, 1823-1863.
  • Newspaper editors -- United States -- Biography.
  • Tomlinson, Will, 1823-1863 -- Correspondence.
  • Tomlinson, Eliza Wylie, 1815-1885 -- Correspondence.
  • Tomlinson, William Byers, 1847-1917 -- Correspondence.
  • Tomlinson, Sarah Isabella, 1853-1925 -- Correspondence.
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